The leading-edge vortex of yacht sails

Arredondo-Galeana, Abel and Viola, Ignazio Maria (2018) The leading-edge vortex of yacht sails. Ocean Engineering, 159. pp. 552-562. ISSN 0029-8018 (

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In the present work we experimentally verify, for the first time, that a stable Leading-Edge Vortex (LEV) can be formed on an asymmetric spinnaker, which is a high-lift sail used by yachts to sail downwind. We tested a rigid sail in isolation in a water flume at a Reynolds number of ca. 104. The flow field was measured with Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) over horizontal cross sections. We found that on the leeward side of the sail (the suction side), the flow separates at the leading edge reattaching further downstream and forming a stable LEV. The LEV grows in diameter from the root to the tip of the sail, where it merges with the tip vortex. We detected the LEV using the γ criterion, and we verified its stability over time. The lift contribution provided by the LEV was computed solving a complex potential model of each sail section. This analysis indicated that the LEV provides more than 10% of the total sail’s lift. These findings suggest that the maximum lift of low-aspect-ratio wings with a sharp leading edge, such as spinnakers, can be enhanced by promoting the formation of a stable LEV.